Halt rush for the Arctic’s oil
WWF report highlights concerns over potential environmental impact over rush to exploit newly accessible oil reserves
As the rush to exploit newly accessible Arctic oil reserves accelerates, a report released by WWF claims that the marine conditions found within the region serve to create an oil spill ‘response gap’ – the period of time when activities that run the risk of an oil spill are carried out, yet an effective response to an incident would prove problematic.
Commissioned by WWF and released to coincide with an Arctic Frontiers event in Tromso, Norway, the report concludes that the only way to avoid the potentially devastating environmental impacts that an oil spill would cause, is to ensure that no more of the Arctic is opened up to oil development until the response gap is closed.
“The Arctic has an almost unparalleled level of ecological sensitivity and one of the lowest levels of capacity in terms of cleaning up after an accident,” said James Leaton, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF-UK. “This combination makes it unacceptable to expose the Arctic to a scramble for oil. Allowing the oil industry – one of the major contributors of climate change – to rush to exploit reserves made accessible by melting ice will only serve to perpetuate the problem. It’s pouring fuel onto the flames.”
According to the report Oil Spill Response Challenges in Arctic Waters, Arctic conditions can impact on both the probability that a spill will occur from oil and gas operations and the consequences of such a spill.
The same conditions that contribute to oil spill risks (including lack of natural light, extreme cold, moving ice floes, high wind and low visibility) can also make spill response operations extremely difficult or totally ineffective.
“The ability to effectively clean up an Arctic marine oil spill is a critical component of the risk equation,” said Dr Neil Hamilton, Director of the WWF International Arctic Programme. “The fact that a catastrophic spill might exceed the operating limits of existing oil spill response technologies is a strong argument for a moratorium until the response gap is filled.”
The report recognises that significant efforts are ongoing to test and improve spill response technologies for use in Arctic conditions.
However until such technologies are proven to work in the field and are market-ready, additional prevention and planning measures are vital, in order to eliminate the risk of oil spill when response operations are not feasible.